The Canadian Icefields Parkway is a super long scenic drive that everyone must do at least once in their lifetime. While this bucket list item may seem fairly self-explanatory, since it is a scenic drive, you still must know where all the amazing stops and things to do are located along the way!
Before we get into that though, let’s dig into the basics of what you need to know about the Canadian Icefields Parkway.
Where is Icefields Parkway?
Icefields Parkway is a stretch of road that links Jasper to Lake Louise up in Canada. It easily winds along the Continental Divide and the sights you will see as you drive along will take your breath away, while making you want so much more.
How Long Does It Take to Drive the Icefields Parkway?
The Icefields Parkway is two hundred thirty-two kilometers long and it takes at least three hours to drive it from one end to the other. Of course, you can only accomplish that feat in such a short amount of time if you do not make any stops along the way!
Icefields Parkway Weather
The weather around the Icefields Parkway is pretty much what you would expect for Canada. The spring, summer, and fall brings warmer temperatures, while the winter months bring cold and snow. The winters can be so bad in this part of the country that you must use caution when setting out for a drive. While the views can be extraordinary during the winter, just like they are during the warmer months of the year, you must keep an eye out for avalanches and other inclement weather issues.
Best Time to Drive on Icefields Parkway
The Icefields Parkway road conditions can be treacherous during the winter months and it is common for them to be closed numerous times, due to the extreme weather conditions. Therefore, it is usually best to make this drive any time between the months of May through October. The peak times though are during the months of June, July, August, and September, because the weather is usually cooperative, the road conditions are excellent most of the time, and the wildlife is out roaming around.
Inside Tips for Driving on Icefields Parkway
There are a few helpful tips you must know before you venture out onto the Canadian Icefields Parkway. First, you must obtain a national park pass prior to getting onto this road. Traveling along the Icefields Parkway without one can result in a hefty fine. You can purchase a national park pass at the visitor center and information desks in Lake Louise, Banff, and Jasper.
It is best to make sure you have a full tank of gas before heading out in either direction on the Icefields Parkway. The reason for this is there is only one gas station and that is at the Saskatchewan Crossing.
There are only a couple different accommodations along this route, as well as a few restaurants too. Therefore, you should plan your trip carefully if you think you will need any of these services. Icefields Parkway hotels are available, but they are your basic motel style accommodations. There are also a few Icefields Parkway camping sites available along the parkway, but they are on a first come first serve basis.
The last thing you should know about driving on the Icefields Parkway is you must drive it in both directions if you have the time available. This will ensure you do not miss anything along the way.
20 Amazing Stops and Things to Do on Canadian Icefields Parkway
There are so many different things to see when you are driving along the Canadian Icefields Parkway, but the items below are the ones that must be one everyone’s list.
1) Bow Lake Canada
Bow Lake is one of the stops closest to Lake Louise, so depending on which end you began your drive at, this may be one of your
first stops. This lake is directly next to the Icefields Parkway and it is the perfect spot for looking at the Crowfoot Glacier, as well as the Wapta Icefield, Crowfoot Mountain, Mount Thompson, and Bow Glacier.
2) Peyto Lake and the Bow Summit
Peyto Lake and the Bow Summit are two other locations on the Icefield Parkway map. This lake is the one that people flock to the most when they are in the Canadian Rockies, because the glacier rocks flow into it during the summer and give it a unique turquoise color. It is best to look at this lake from the Bow Summit, which is sixty-eight hundred feet above sea level. When you are at this location, you will be at the highest Banff Canada elevation for this drive.
3) Saskatchewan River Crossing
This Icefields Parkway’s point of interest is where three different rivers meet. Those rivers are the North Saskatchewan, the
Mistaya, and the Howse. This is the location where the Columbia Icefields Parkway tours begin. The Saskatchewan River Crossing is also where you will find the only gas station on the route, as well as public bathrooms.
4) Dine at the Crossing Pub
If you happen to forget a picnic lunch, or you are just extremely hungry from all the fresh air you are getting out in nature, you may want to grab a bite to eat at the Crossing Pub. This restaurant can be found at The Crossing, which is a hotel located near the Saskatchewan River Crossing. The menu contains many grilled items and you can either eat in front of the fireplace or out on the terrace, depending on the time of year you are visiting.
5) Weeping Wall
The Weeping Wall can be found at Cirrus Mountain and it is basically a mountain that has multiple waterfalls going down it. The
water comes down three hundred thirty feet in different areas, as it makes the mountain look like it is crying. Each individual small waterfall has a name, but the largest of them all is Teardrop.
6) Big Hill and Big Bend
You will know when you have reached the Big Hill, because you will instantly either start to descend rapidly or have a massive hill in front of you to drive up in your vehicle. As you are staying on course driving up or down this hill, you should take the time to look out over the valley and the river, which will both be below you. You can even pull over at the Big Hill lookout to see even better views. As for the Big Bend, this is a hairpin turn that will have you wondering what in the world you are doing, as it wraps in a full circle before eventually straightening back out. You can stop at the Big Bend, to appreciate the views and get your bearings. However, it is best if you do not linger for too long and make sure you are completely off the road during the time you are stopped.
7) Parker Ridge
Up in northern Banff National Park is where you will find Parker Ridge. It is best to hike up to the summit for the gorgeous views of the Saskatchewan Glacier and surrounding mountains, but it will take you two hours to do the hike. You may want to plan your
trip accordingly if you want to do this hike, because the rangers have been known to close the trails off until early summer, so the landscape doesn’t become completely damaged.
8) Columbia Icefield
The Columbia Icefield is the largest field of ice to the south of the Arctic Circle. If you attempt to see this location during the winter months, be prepared to deal with upwards of two hundred seventy-five inches of snow. To really appreciate this part of the Icefields Parkway though, you may want to consider stopping at the Columbia Icefield Centre, because it has a natural history museum.
9) Wilcox Pass
Not too far from the Columbia Icefield is where you will find Wilcox Pass. At this lookout, you will be able to see miles upon miles of the Icefields Parkway. There is a hike at the Wilcox Pass lookout, and it is recommended you do it if you have the time. When
you venture out on these trails, you will find yourself rewarded with astonishing views of mountains, creeks, glaciers, and even the Tangle Falls.
10) Tangle Falls
Once you see Tangle Falls from a distance, you will be more than ready to see it up close. It is easy to miss the trail to this waterfall though, so make sure you are paying close attention when driving down the road. It is also important to note that the parking for this attraction is on the opposite side of the road from the trail. After a quick walk to the waterfall, you will notice it is basically water that rushes over numerous rocks, but the pictures you take will look so much better.
11) Glacier Sky Walk
The Glacier Sky Walk is fairly new, as it didn’t open up until May of 2014. If you want a unique way to see the Sunwapta Valley, you may want to consider going out onto this glass-floor observation deck. Yes, you will be nine hundred eighteen feet above the
valley floor, but the entire experience is totally worthwhile. You must pay to do this activity, but the fee, currently $25, includes walking along the Discovery Trail.
12) Sunwapta Falls
This spectacular waterfall can be found near Jasper and the water from it comes directly from the Athabasca Glacier. It is best to see this waterfall during the late spring or early summer, because that is when there is the most water rushing over the sixty-foot drop.
13) Athabasca Falls
Out of all the Icefields Parkway points of interest, it is Athabasca Falls that will impress you the most. These are the most powerful falls in all the Canadian Rockies, and they are not too far from Jasper. This waterfall is not that high, but the force of the water that comes over the top, as well as the volume of water, more than makes up for the height.
It is best to stay on one of the viewing platforms, or the walking trails, when looking at Athabasca Falls. If you get too close, you could end up in a dangerous situation, which can get worse since you are in the middle of nowhere.
14) Herbert Lake Canada
Herbert Lake Banff was created when glaciers created a pile of moraine and water filled in the hole that was left behind. It is always best to stop at Herbert Lake either early in the morning, or later in the evening, because that is when you can see Mount Temple and the rest of the Waputik Range reflecting into the water.
15) Hector Lake Viewpoint
The Hector Lake Viewpoint is the best spot to see Hector Lake, as well as the massive peak known as Mount Hector. Once spring arrives, and the trees become full of leaves, the views can be partially obscured. However, there is still enough of a view to capture
your attention and make you want more. Before you leave this viewpoint, you must look to the northeast of the lake, because you may see part of Mount Balfour way in the distance.
16) Howse Peak Viewpoint
The Howse Peak Viewpoint can be found at Upper Waterfowl Lake. This is where you can easily see where the Continental Divide was formed. You can also see seven different peaks from this viewpoint, including Howse Peak and Mount Chephren.
17) Trails to Upper and Lower Waterfowl Lakes
If you are in the mood to see some of the native wildlife along the Icefields Parkway, you may want to consider hiking one of the
trails to either Upper or Lower Waterfowl Lakes. This is the best place to see moose, especially near the lush vegetation that surrounds Upper Waterfowl Lake.
18) Mistaya Canyon
The Mistaya Canyon is not too far from the Icefields Parkway and it is definitely worth a little side trip to explore. All you need to do is walk down a short trail and you will be right outside the Mistaya Canyon. You may want to arrive at this destination as early in the day as possible, because the more light there is, the worse your photographs will look.
19) Quartzite Boulder Field
At one point during your drive, you will spot massive pink quartzite rocks on both sides of the Icefields Parkway. These rocks are almost completely covered with lichen moss, especially during the warmer months of the year, so you may not see
too much of the pink. When you stop to see these rocks, you will also have the opportunity to see the Endless Chain mountain range.
20) Kerkeslin Goat Lick
If you have always wanted to see goats licking salty mineral deposits, you must take the time to stop at the Kerkeslin Goat Lick stop on the Icefields Parkway! You will find this stop approximately fifteen minutes before or after Sunwapta Falls and you will know you are in the right place, because you will see a sign with a picture of a goat on it. Please drive carefully in this area, because the goats are often near the road too. If you follow the short trail to the lookout area, you will spot three different mountains in the distance. Those mountains are Mount Fryatt, Mount Christie, and Mount Brussels.
These are the 20 amazing stops and things to do on Canadian Icefields Parkway, so make sure they are on your list when you decide to make this drive. You will have a wonderful time seeing this part of the Canadian Rockies and may end up spending a little more time there than you originally plan. Don’t worry, that happens to everyone, so you might want to prepare in advance and book one of those hotel rooms that are along the route!